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  • alanjohnarmstrong

Opening a new pub or bar with a big bang!

I recently started an exciting new project to launch a new rooftop bar in London.

Whilst preparing for this piece of work, I couldn’t help but think back to all the venue openings which I’ve been involved in from either an operational or marketing perspective over the years up and down the country – there literally must be hundreds of new pub and bar openings which I've been involved in (and then around 20-30 pubs which I helped to name too - Anyone been to The Silk Mill Nuneaton or The Miller in Cheltenham? Yep, that was me).

Research from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) shows that new pub and bar openings are sadly becoming a rare thing. In 2023, a huge 1,293 businesses closed their doors whilst there was just 296 new pub openings.

And whilst opening a new pub or bar sounds like a pretty easy task for any experienced Marketing professional, opening one with a “big bang” is no mean feat! It takes incredible project management skills to keep all the many plates spinning whilst remaining flexible to any changes and delays which may arise. It’s also a very difficult task to manage a communication plan which both teases and builds hype with your audience without giving away all your USP’s in one go.

So when setting about collating my content on the subject, I decided to assemble a crack team featuring some of the best "new opening" Marketers in the business to help me curate the top tips.

Please join me in showing my appreciation for Sophie Evans (Marketing Director at Leisure TV Rights), Jack Jolly (Senior Brand and PR manager at Burgerism), Jonathan Fone (Media Manager at Stonegate Group) and Ronnie Joice (Freelance Marketing and Digital Manager), their input into the below list of tangible advice was invaluable.

So without any further a due, from examples of engaging social content to viral guerrilla marketing stunts, here’s a few cool ideas and bits of advice to ensure your venue's grand opening is a memorable one….

1. Creating a Buzz

Before the doors even open, it's crucial to generate hype, excitement, and anticipation amongst your target audience. One effective way to do this is through a multi-pronged, layered approach:

  • Building wraps: Let passers-by know what's replacing their favourite bar by using eye-catching vinyl wraparound signage on the venue site. This not only announces your arrival but also piques curiosity and hides the builders too. Albert's Schloss, are the very best at this in my opinion...

  • Engaging Social Content: Take advantage of social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to tease your audience with glimpses of what's to come. Use organic posts to slowly reveal elements of the new venue, building anticipation bit by bit. Try not to give away all your secrets on week one, I tend to use the approach to release things like venue name, location, launch date, food & drink images, internal pics in stages to tease the audience.

  • Dark Ads and Data Capture: Utilise targeted dark social ads to drive your future customer acquisition through encouraging them to sign up for your mailing list in exchange for exclusive launch tickets, discounted offers such as 50% off their bill during the first week. Additionally, run data capture competitions offering enticing prizes like a £500 bar tab to drive lead-generation for your sales team to contact and book in.

  • Giveaways: Whether you call them freebies or maybe even sampling, there's no better way to build hype than running a day or night with free food or drink for everyone! You get guaranteed queues and lots of new customer acquisition for your CRM and social accounts. Rudy's (as shown below) are the Kings at this with their 5000 pizza giveaway the focal point for all new store openings...

  • Local Business Activation: Tap into the local community by offering loyalty schemes and incentives for nearby businesses and offices. This can be done through face-to-face meetings with keyholders and tastemakers, as well as B2B outreach on platforms like LinkedIn.

  • Guerrilla Stunts: Launch with a bang by orchestrating creative and attention-grabbing guerrilla marketing stunts. These don't have to be expensive but can generate significant buzz and excitement, especially on social media. One stunt which always sticks in my mind was the genius Pornstar Martini donuts implemented by Sophie Evans and team at Pam Lloyd PR to drive awareness of the launch of London Cocktail Club in Bristol...

2. Launch Day and Beyond

When the big day finally arrives, make sure it's a spectacle to remember:

  • Advertise Strategically: Utilise hyperlocal advertising to target potential customers who have recently visited rival bars in the area. Tailor your advertising approach based on the local market and consumer trends. Whilst opening Tonight Josephine in Liverpool, I once teamed up with Scoop PR to create the below street billboards with mirrors within them...

  • Influencers and Press: Collaborate with local influencers to amplify interest and reach beyond your own audience. Send them a nice goody box or invite them to a launch party to create buzz and generate authentic content. Similarly, engage with journalists off the record initially, then pitch for official visits once feedback has been incorporated. Hard hat tours are a great way to make this audience feel special and be the first to see the new venue before the general public.

  • Customer journey: Make sure you get your acquisition and retention journeys fully working before your opening day. Things like your proof-of-presence integrations, customer segments, and automated emails can all be pre-programmed in advance, so you start retaining customers from day one through personalised, targeted emails. Also, get your sign-up offer (data exchange) and birthday offers fully live before the doors open.

  • Collaborations and Events: Partner with local businesses, offices or suppliers for collaborative events that showcase the best of your venue and the community. This could include joint promotions, themed nights, bar takeovers or special offers. I always remember just after Barrio opened in Shoreditch, Ronnie Joice and co. teamed up with Jose Cuervo Tequila to create the "Launderita" featuring washing machine made margarita's... epic!

3. Building a Lasting Brand

Remember, opening a new pub or bar is akin to launching a new brand, especially in a new city or location. Focus on your storytelling, your community engagement, and creating an aspirational lifestyle that resonates with your target demographic.

Maintaining momentum is very important post-launch by consistently engaging with your audience on social media, encouraging user-generated content, and leveraging third-party platforms for marketing efforts. This should be done for approximately 6-weeks after with compelling events and reasons to visit, like the Champions league event below organised at Clubhouse 5 at Leicester Square by Stonegate Group crucial to continually attract crowds to your sparkling new bar.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever picked up in my career was "it’s easy to fill a pub or bar with a rent-a-crowd with free drinks and food, the hard bit is driving the second and third visit in the weeks which follow".

By following some of the above concepts and adapting them to your specific location and audience, you can ensure that your pub or bar launch is a resounding success. On behalf of me and my fellow blog scribers (Sophie, Jon, Ronnie and Jack), thank you for reading and cheers to your new venture and may it thrive for years to come.

(PS… if anyone would like SPACEMAN marketing to help plan and implement your next new bar/pub/restaurant opening please get in touch, my success rate is pretty good.)

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